History of Solar Energy

Ancient History of Solar Energy

The first use of solar power to harness the power of the sun was around the 7th century BC, when mirrors and reflected surfaces were used to concentrate the sun’s rays and start fires.
Around the 3rd century BC the Greeks and Romans were using the sun to start fires for religious ceremonies.
Around the 2nd century BC, although this is highly debatable with no truly convincing historical evidence, Archimedes used a bronze shield to concentrate the power of the sun’s rays on wooden Roman ships, bursting them into flames.  Although controversial, the story of Archimedes is a fun and recurring debate of solar energy history.
Around the 1st century AD there are documents suggesting that the Chinese also were using the sun’s power to set fires for religious ceremonies.
Later, around the 2nd century AD we saw the Romans first use the sun’s power for thermal or heat energy when they designed special windows to direct the sun’s rays into bath houses for heat.  From this time on, throughout ancient history, there are many examples of people using the sun’s power to create fire or for thermal and heating purposes.

Modern History of Solar Energy

In the late 1700s Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure invented the world’s first concentrated solar collector, which was later used for cooking food.

In 1839 French scientist Edmund Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect by showing that the electrical generation of his prototype increased when exposed to the sun’s light, this was a huge discovery for the history and future of solar energy.

In the 1860’s the solar powered steam engine was invented and was used for many different applications.

In 1905 Albert Einstein wrote a paper of the photoelectric effect, greatly improving the world’s knowledge of the topic, and for which he later won the Nobel Prize.  Then, in 1908 William J Bailey invented a solar collector with copper coils and an insulated box, which is still the foundation of the construction of solar panels today.

It was not until 1953 that the modern day photovoltaic (PV) cell was constructed and able to harness enough of the Sun’s energy to run common electrical appliances.  The PV cell model is now the most efficient contributor to solar power today.

The most monumental discovery in the history of solar power was the discovery of the photovoltaic effect. This discovery has greatly influence solar panel design and the solar power technology of today.